ENS NEWS N° 34, Intro
Imagining the unimaginable
Before the tragic events of Fukushima unfolded before our television screens some six months ago, the renaissance of nuclear energy had been a regular topic of conversation. Today, in certain quarters, it’s more the regression of nuclear energy than its resurgence that is talked about. Indeed, in some countries and sections of the media there is even talk, largely politically motivated, of replacing or seriously reducing the contribution of nuclear to the energy mix. In France, Europe’s premier nuclear country, pre-electoral campaigning has thrown up the unlikely, but potentially vote-winning scenario, of reducing from 75% to 50% the contribution that nuclear makes to the country’s energy provision by around 2025. Conversely, in many countries new build momentum has been maintained and the future remains bright for nuclear energy. Well, whatever opinion you hold, it cannot be denied that Fukushima has re-shaped the political agenda, mobilised public opinion and upped the ante in the global nuclear debate. I recently heard a senior executive from another industry speaking about the importance today of crisis management. He referred to how his industry was redoubling their efforts to avoid suffering a “Fukushima moment.” It would appear that the impact of the accident, combined with the scale of the resulting media frenzy and increasingly polarised political thinking, have helped establish the word Fukushima as part of our shared lexicon. It has become synonymous with unmitigated disaster and human error; a metaphor for the helplessness of man when compared with the awesome power of Mother Nature. The term “stress tests” (“safety risk assessments” is perhaps a more accurate and less contentious term) could also soon invade our common vernacular. The watershed events of 11 March have, whether we like it or not, changed things.
But how has the accident impacted upon the nuclear research community in real terms? To what extent has the fundamental drive and direction of research changed? Well, the fundamental objectives of learning the lessons of Fukushima, of putting them into practice and of re-establishing the nuclear industry’s safety credentials, have led to a re-focusing of our research efforts. There must be clear evidence that the lessons have been learnt. The stakes have been raised, and so has the bar of acceptability. To simply reply that “our plant is nowhere near the sea or an earthquake zone” is unacceptable. This complacent new take on nimbyism cuts no ice post-Fukushima. The whole nuclear community shares a common responsibility. Essentially, researchers have been forced to consider new potentially dramatic scenarios, like the Fukushima one where two unprecedented natural disasters combined, against all the odds, to knock out the grid, cause a catastrophic loss of back-up power and create a nuclear accident equivalent to a “7” rating on the INES scale. Researchers now have to think the unthinkable and imagine the unimaginable to ensure that nuclear installations are as safe as it is possible to be against all eventualities. This is one of the major challenges facing the nuclear research community today. And there is no time to lose if confidence in certain quarters is to be restored.
ENS NEWS would like to invite readers to share their personal experiences of how grass roots research has - or hasn’t - changed since Fukushima wrote a new chapter in the history of nuclear energy.
The ENS News section of this bumper N° 34 edition kicks off with the traditional Word from the President, in which Professor Slugen shares his impressions of the recent Secure Energy Supply 2011 (SES 2011) conference that took place in Bratislava, Slovakia. This conference attracted many top-level speakers, including national politicians, and was made possible by close co-operation between the Slovak Nuclear Society and the Slovak Nuclear Forum. In it Professor focuses on the vital subject of security of energy supply and on the implications of meeting energy supply with demand - both before and since the Fukushima accident.
The High Scientific Council of ENS then provides readers with a detailed analysis of the events leading up to, during and after the accident at Fukushima, with special emphasis on the causes, on reactor design and on what technical lessons can be learnt from the catastrophe. Finally, the spotlight is put on Euratom education and training measures carried out under the auspices of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
The major ENS conferences highlighted in the ENS Events section are PIME 2012, RRFM 2012, TopSafe 2012, TopFuel 2012 and ENC 2012.
This autumn edition also features a host of contributions to the Member Societies and Corporate Members sections. These include papers on new technology patented by the Centre for Technology Transfer and pre and post-natal irradiation research carried out by SCK-CEN; technical seminars, conferences and artistic competitions from Romania; a new book published in Austria on Fukushima; the latest information courses offered by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Frédéric Joliot/Otto Hahn Summer School, in Germany; events organised in Slovenia and Spain; the WANO Nuclear Excellence Awards; an important isotope production milestone at NRG, in Holland and other news from corporate members such as ONET technologies and Westinghouse. I apologise if I have omitted any contributions, but they really were too numerous to mention individually!
The YGN Report section features reports from YGN chapters in Poland and Spain.
Finally, the ENS World News section features a selection of recent NucNet news reports and a detailed run-down of the many ENS conferences in the pipeline.
I hope you enjoy reading what is probably the largest ENS NEWS ever produced….a tribute to the dynamism and commitment of ENS members. Many thanks for your great support for ENS NEWS.
Editor-in-Chief, ENS NEWS